USGA, PGA of America & Golf Stars Unite to Fight Slow Play with 'Tee it Forward' Campaign

By: Jay Flemma

Barney Adams looks more like a boxer than a golfer: tall and muscular with chiseled features and a piercing, hawkish gaze of steel. If eyes truly are the window to the soul and the mirror of the man, then Adams is every bit ready to tackle the proverbial golf fight of his life. Well, he's going to need every bit of iron will and steely nerve he can muster. Although he made his name and fortune as one of America's greatest club-smiths, he now seeks to recast that legacy. He's taking on slow play, and losing is not an option.

Barney Adams at Congressional

"What are the two biggest reasons people quit the game of golf?" Adams asked rhetorically on Tuesday at Congressional Country Club, site of this week's U.S. Open. "It takes too long and it's too hard. Why does it take too long and provide less fun than they hoped? They are playing the wrong set of tees."

So Adams provided the vision for "Tee it Forward," a nationwide initiative to educate and encourage golfers to play the correct set of tees and, by doing so, enjoy the game more and play faster. Tee It Forward is jointly supported by the USGA and the PGA of America.

"Ninety-five percent of players are on the wrong set of tees - they are playing tees far too long for them," he continues energetically. "The average player only drives the ball between 200-230 yards, he's hitting 3-woods and hybrids all day playing a 6,700-yard course. If you make the analogy to a PGA Tour player, that's like a touring pro playing an 8,400-yard course! Who would do that to themselves?"

Then he throws us a curveball by switching to a baseball analogy, but an effective one. "It's as though they were batting against a major league pitcher throwing from a little league mound," he concludes poignantly.

Adams's solution is simple - move down a set of tees. Play from a distance where you can comfortably hit some irons if you split the fairway with your drive. "This is not about playing some watered-down version of golf," he declares. "You're not going to be teeing up at the 244 yards mark or playing just in front of the green with a sand wedge."

All Adams is suggesting is that if golfers change their thinking, put their machismo aside, and quit trying to emulate the pro game they see on TV, they'll stay with golf longer, enjoy it more and speed up play.

The initiative has gained traction at Indy 500 speed. Knowing that slow play is one of the top reasons that people quit playing golf, both the PGA of America and the USGA have signed on in full support of Adams. Golf courses throughout the country will be promoting the Tee it Forward program throughout the summer and beyond.

"This innovation will appeal to golfers of all skill levels because they will be better aligning their ability with the course they are playing," said USGA president Jim Hyler.

Tee it Forward is also not necessarily about creating a new set of tees; many facilities have multiple tees in use every day. It is somewhat akin to the "flex tees" some courses utilize - a mix of different tee boxes, some long, some short. Each set of Tee it Forward tees will also be rated and sloped so the player can use the round to calculate his or her handicap. There's really no downside.

Adams knows he'll face some pushback. "Ah, the male ego," he mockingly laments, rolling his eyes as one journalist asks how he'll put up with the "you're asking us to wimp out" excuse. Adams simply points out that once the player realizes he's playing a course at a proportional length of over 1,400 yards longer than a pro would face on Tour, they may see things differently. Moreover, the more people enjoy golf, the more they stick with it.

Other prominent golf insiders are wildly excited about the idea as well. "It's a terrific idea, we desperately need to do something about slow play, not just on Tour but all across the game," explained NBC golf anchor Dan Hicks, who will call this week's U.S. Open. "People think they are better than they are. Once they clearly see that they are asking far too much of themselves than they are capable of, they'll start to think differently."

Hicks is right - education is as important component of the program as well as exposure. By the way, when asked about how to curb slow play on Tour, Hicks did not pull punches. "There need to be fines across the board for slow play," he said. "We must do something about it now, it's gotten to be a problem and it filters into all levels of play."

Famed golf instructor Butch Harmon agreed. "People let their egos get in the way. You'll play faster and everyone will enjoy the game more. I moved up a set myself, now that I'm older, and I'm enjoying the game just fine. If you put aside your ego, you'd be surprised how much fun you can have."

Then Harmon also got medieval on the scourge of slow play on Tour. "Fining them won't do any good, but hand out the first two-stroke penalty and watch how fast they'd all pick it up," he concluded.

Even Tour players are getting behind the idea. "While I support people being able to choose where to play from, there are a lot of people who could benefit from moving up a box," added Dustin Johnson.

"It's a great idea because slow play is a problem and this idea speeds up play and keeps people trying golf and staying with golf because they see good results," agreed K.J. Choi.

Perhaps the most startling yet supportive recommendation came from . . . wait for it . . . Ben Crane! That's right, the man reported to be a human glacier is 100% behind the idea of speeding up play.

"It's a great idea - more people will be able to break 80 or shoot even-par or break whatever milestone they set for themselves, and they'll stick with the game longer. They'll enjoy themselves more," Crane said. "When I play with my friends, they all ask if they can move back to the tips with me and I tell them absolutely not - I'll move up a set to join them. I always enjoy the day when I do that."

Then Crane's puckish side emerged - you know, the side that did the "Golf Boys" video that's sweeping the nation - and he threw out some ideas about slow play on Tour. "As long as we finish in eight or nine hours on Tour, that should be fine." After the laughter subsided, he added some thoughtful comments to the discussion, noting that Tour courses are too long and set-ups frequently too machismo and unbelievable in length and difficulty.

"They should set up the Tour courses shorter so they can bring the whole field into play and make it more competitive, fun and exciting."

More fun and excitement - that's Tee it Forward. Play faster, score better, and stick with golf for life - that's also Tee it Forward. It's coming to a course near you, so participate and watch your scores get better and see how much quicker you get back home to the spouse. That's a win-win situation right there.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004,, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (, Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.